The Science of Color

Science of Color Killer Infographics

If you’ve seen the 1949 movie The Wizard of Oz, the experience of Dorothy’s transition from black-and-white Kansan fields to technicolor Oz feels miraculous. While it took Dorothy a tornado trip to break into color, the human eye and brain are built to experience color in fluid ways depending on our environments.

Science of Color Killer Infographics

What We See When We See “Color”
When we look at color, we’re actually looking at light, which travels through the atmosphere by waves. The different lengths of the wave equal a different color. The human eye can see wavelengths between 380 nanometers (nm) and 750 nm, which Sir Isaac Newton discovered in 1666.

Objects appear colorful through the wavelengths that meet them. Some wavelengths are absorbed, but the ones that aren’t are reflected — and that’s what we recognize as “color.”

Name That Hue
With color being a facet of light, it makes sense that it’s harder to see in the dark. But why is it that certain people have trouble distinguishing certain colors? Both night vision and color blindness have to do with the construction of the human eye and its sight mechanisms.

Science of Color Killer Infographics

But what if you can’t distinguish colors at all? Color blindness exists when there’s a fault in any of the cone development. Red-green color blindness is the most common: 8% of males — compared with 0.5% of females — have that error.

Science of Color Killer Infographics

That Sunset, Though…
One of the most sight-worthy views — whether you’re at the beach, by a mountain, or up on a rooftop —is a sunset. If the sky is normally blue, what causes that light display? Well, when the sun is straight above at noon, the sun’s rays have the shortest path through the atmosphere, so their color shows up on the low (blue) end of the light spectrum. When the sun is at the edge of the horizon, it has more distance to travel, so the wavelengths get longer, and colors change from blue to red.

Science of Color Killer Infographics

Look Out! (“Forbidden” Colors)
There are some colors that the human eye just can’t translate. UV and Infrared, for example, are colors bordering the visible spectrum, but human eyes aren’t sensitive enough to see them. Then there are the so-called “forbidden” colors, ones that the brain can’t merge even though optical illusions have demonstrated their existence.

Besides seeing color in the world around us, we use applications of color in the visual arts in various ways. Consider painting and screenprinting, for example:

Science of Color Killer Infographics

Even in the tech world, different color structures are used on the computer (RGB) versus in print (CYMK) to help bridge the gap between the eye and the medium.

Did this have you seeing things differently? Paint us a picture about your experiences with color here.

Abi Pollokoff

Author Abi Pollokoff

Abi Pollokoff is the Director of Content for Killer Infographics. Originally from the Chicago area, she moved to Seattle in 2014 from New Orleans. With a BA in English, French, and Italian and an MFA in Poetry, she is dedicated to exploring the nuances and possibilities of language. Before joining Killer, Abi spent time as a writing instructor as well as the associate editor at a book-publishing company. These experiences bolster Abi’s work with Killer and enable her to write for diverse audiences, and she strives to apply this perspective to target the unique goals of every Killer project. Abi enjoys developing strong working relationships with clients and creating a human connection through the writing process.

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